Hard work and dedication has paid off for the son of the Buckeye Bullet.
Ryan Blaney, a developmental driver for Team Penske since 2012, will be joining Wood Brothers Racing for the 2015 season. Replacing Trevor Bayne in the iconic No. 21 Ford, Blaney will be running at least 12 events next year. With Bayne heading over to the No. 6 car for Roush Fenway Racing in 2015, the Wood Brothers were sent searching for a new driver to take the seat in the cockpit of their vehicle.
In addition to racing for the Wood Brothers, the soon to be 21-year-old will be racing for Team Penske in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. This season, he has run seven races for Penske in NASCAR’s second-tier division – tallying up six top-10s; highlighted by a runner-up finish at Iowa Speedway. Although the team did not announce how many races Blaney will race in the Nationwide Series, they said it could be around the same amount that he is scheduled to run this year.
Team Penske has also created an alliance with the Wood Brothers, whom of which previously had a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing.
“Working with an organization that has been so successful at Daytona and the bigger tracks and the success that we have had has been there, but not to the extent that these guys have had,” Tim Cindric, President of Team Penske said. “This is something that we can learn from, but with a third car out there – running the same specifications and equipment that we are with our two cars can only continue to help grow our program in a faster way. With the rule changes that they are looking at for next year – we will have more cars out there to learn quicker. We would love to run three or four cars like some of these teams do, but I think the fact that we run two cars with the group that we have – this is just a good move for us.”
The move enables Blaney to move up the ranks after racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on a full-time basis for Brad Keselowski Racing. Currently, he leads the championship standings with an average finish of 7.4 halfway into the 2014 season. Besides
“I don’t think it will be incredibly difficult,” Blaney said on running both schedules next year. “We have a great team with the alliance with the Wood Brothers and Team Penske. I think we have a great chance. I will need a little bit of time just because all three series drive so differently, but hopefully in time – running these races will definitely help that. It is really big for me getting ready for next season.
This weekend at the Michigan International Speedway, Blaney will turn his first laps in the No. 21 Ford. With Bayne racing in the Nationwide Series event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the newest driver to race for the organization will practice and qualify the car. Earlier this year, he made his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut with Team Penske at Kansas Speedway in the No. 12 car – finishing 27th after running inside of the top 15 throughout the race.
The No. 3 is back in Victory Lane for the second straight weekend. However, this time – it is in a different division. A week after Ty Dillon piloted his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to the winner’s circle at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Austin Dillon has captured the triumph in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Pocono Raceway.
Dillon’s victory marks the first time a Chevrolet has won a Truck Series race since his younger brother won at Texas late in the 2013 season. This is his first win in over a year after scoring the victory at Eldora in the Truck Series last year.
“Anytime you can get a NASCAR win, it is huge. Last year, we got a championship without a win and I can’t forget how I saw my brother get a win. These seasons are so long and rejuvenating, so I love watching him do that. It puts the fire back in you to see that place again – seeing him in there in Victory Lane. From time to time, you have to feel how special it is, and I attribute what Ty did last week to how I ran this week. I’m jacked up and wanting to get a Cup win now,” Dillon said in a post-race press conference.
Early in the race, pole sitter Kyle Larson took a commanding lead over Dillon, but he was able to close the gap for a few laps until Larson continued to extend his lead.
During the first caution, the No. 3 truck stayed out along with Tyler Reddick, Justin Lofton and Ryan Blaney. This put them on a different pit strategy from the leaders – enabling them to stretch out the fuel mileage past the half-way mark in order to gain track position.
Right after his green flag pit stop, Larson’s truck lost a cylinder. He was able to keep up with the drivers that pitted with him for a handful of laps, yet his engine just didn’t stick with him. On the straightaways, trucks drove right around the No. 32 truck after he was the strongest truck throughout the day.
On Lap 53, German Quiroga got into Reddick coming out of the tunnel turn. Reddick had been running inside of the top-five throughout the race, but got caught up in traffic on the restart after the caution came out for Kyle Martel hitting the wall in Turn 1 on Lap 47. The No. 19 truck got loose in the corner while going underneath Quiroga, but then the No. 77 just got right into the rear of Reddick’s Ford.
“He ran me to the wall. I just tried to stay off the wall. I didn’t even mean to spin him. He kept running me to the wall. I don’t race like that. I was just avoiding the wall and from there – I don’t know what happened. I didn’t even see him. All of a sudden he was on my back bumper,” Quiroga said after the race. “I’m fighting for a championship. I’ve never got into somebody that is fight for a championship. I don’t know why he did that. I didn’t send him into the wall. He just kept trying to get into me.
NASCAR held Reddick for the final two laps of the 60-lap event for rough driving. Moreover, after the race, his crew chief Doug Randolph and he were called over to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hauler.
“It was just a racing deal. When it gets down to the end, everyone is fighting for positions. It is very tight and technical coming off of (Turn) 2. We raced at Dover very clean together. We raced at a lot of places together. Everyone is going to have their racing incidents that they don’t want,” Reddick said. “They are looking over what happened and discussing their take on what happened – where to go from there. They just want to make sure that we take it down a notch and keep it under control. I don’t think there were any rough intentions anywhere.”
Ryan Blaney extended his points lead to seven points over Johnny Sauter, who finished second to Dillon. Sauter’s teammate and reigning Truck Series champion Matt Crafton falls to third in points after a 14th-place finish – just 12 markers behind the driver of the No. 29 Ford.
Clint Bowyer drove the No. 05 Toyota to a fourth-place finish for Athenian Motorsports after being tabbed as the substitute driver for John Wes Townley. He led 10 laps in Saturday afternoon’s race, and was battling Dillon for the lead until he had a poor restart with just two laps to go.
Here are some notables from the Pocono Mountains 150:
-Joe Nemechek earned his fifth top-10 finish of the 2014 season. This event marked his first Truck Series race at Pocono.
-Justin Lofton finished ninth in the No. 9 Chevrolet. He finished inside of the top-10 for the third time in four races this year.
-Jason White ended the day in the 11th position. This was his first race at a non-restrictor plate track since running at Homestead in 2012.
-Spencer Gallagher finished 15th in his fourth race of 2014 for GMS Racing. In doing so, he earned his second straight top-15 finish after earning the 11th spot at Iowa Speedway for the ninth race of the yer.
-Ryan Ellis earned his second-best career finish in the No. 28 truck for FDNY Racing. He finished the day in the 19th position. His best career finish was 18th at Daytona International Speedway earlier this year.
Over the past four years, the Pocono Raceway has held a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in August along with the usual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and ARCA Series events at the track. In the four races at the track, fuel mileage has played a large role in the results of the event, and if history serves us right – the same will happen once again this weekend.
This year’s Truck Series race at Pocono will be slightly longer. NASCAR and the track came to an agreement to add 25-miles to what was a 125-mile event. With the added laps, teams will have to adjust their strategy accordingly – possibly throwing some off course during the late stages of the race.
Last year’s winner, Ryan Blaney, enters Pocono as the championship leader. Although he doesn’t have a win this season, the 20-year-old has been a model of consistency as the division nears the half-way point in the season. Coming off of three straight top-three finishes, he has moved from fifth in points to the top spot over the past four races.
Joey Coulter, the only other driver with a win at Pocono in the Truck Series, has three top-10s after 10 races his year. However, the move to GMS Racing has been smooth for him as things have begun to pick up – especially in qualifying. What he called his weakest point so far this year, Coulter has been able to start inside of the top-10 throughout the past four races. With a top-five finish needed for this team, expect the No. 21 Chevrolet to be racing near the front of the pack this weekend.
Austin Dillon will run his fifth Camping World Truck Series race of the 2014 season. Dillon, who is racing for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in the Sprint Cup Series, has made several spot starts for NTS Motorsports this season. This weekend, he’ll be in the No. 3 truck for Richard Childress Racing for the second time this year (first was in the No. 2 truck). The reigning Nationwide Series champion and 2011 Truck Series victor has his sights set on contending for the win this weekend. In his previous two starts at Pocono, he has a pair of top-10s, yet he never led a lap at the “Tricky Triangle.” Racing in this event should help Dillon, who finished 17th in his first Cup Series race at Pocono in June.
Kyle Larson is making his second straight start in the Truck Series. Larson will be in the No. 32 Chevrolet for Turner Scott Motorsports instead of flying out to Iowa Speedway for the Nationwide Series race. He won the ARCA Series event at Pocono in June – holding off a hard charging Mason Mitchell in the process. After running the ARCA race, he capped off the weekend with a top-five finish in the Cup Series race. The team gave him a hard time all weekend as he didn’t know how to shift well in the Cup Series car, but that should change this weekend after his impressive run at the 2.5-mile track.
Here are some notables for the Pocono Mountains 150:
-Joe Nemechek returns to the No. 8 truck. This will be his sixth start of the season as he is looking for his fourth top-10 finish of 2014.
-Jason White is racing the No. 9 Chevrolet for NTS Motorsports. This will be his first Truck Series event since Daytona in February and his first at a non-restrictor plate track since Homestead of 2012.
-Justin Lofton will be racing his fourth race this year for NTS Motorsports. He finished in the runner-up position at Texas, and is looking to catch the attention of sponsors to run some more races.
-Ryan Ellis will be back in the No. 28 truck for FDNY Racing. Speedway Digest will have more on the team’s situation over the course of the weekend.
-Todd Peck will be racing his No. 40 truck for the second time this season. Peck qualified for the race at Dover, but parked his vehicle after a handful of laps.
-Erik Jones will be making his Pocono debut. Jones made his Nationwide Series debut with Joe Gibbs Racing at Chicagoland, and won the Truck Series race at Iowa. However, that has been his only top-10 finish this season.
-Kyle Martel will be running his first Truck Series race of the season. Martel made two starts last year with his family-owned team. In three career starts, his best finish was 21st at Pocono in his first event back in 2012.
The famous No. 21 Ford has a vacancy for the 2015 season. Trevor Bayne, who has driven for the Wood Brothers since Texas in 2010, is set to move over to Roush-Fenway Racing on a full-time basis next year as Roush will bring back the No. 6 car which was driven by Mark Martin for nearly two decades.
However, the Wood Brothers have plenty of options to fill their coveted seat, in part due to their alliance with RFR. This year, Bayne has recorded three top-20s in the No. 21 car, each of which has come at intermediate tracks. But this team has not raced full-time since they attempted to do so in 2008, but missed a handful of events with Jon Wood and Marcos Ambrose.
Now that the team is looking for a new driver, they might just go back to racing on a full-time basis. The Wood Brothers have not run more than 17 races per year since Bayne joined the team, even after winning the 2011 Daytona 500. They just have not been able to piece together more sponsorship packages to run additional events.
Rumors have been swirling around that Sam Hornish Jr., the former Indianapolis 500 winner, might be able to piece together some funding to run full-time with the Wood Brothers next year. But history shows that the Wood Brothers are by far less successful when they run their No. 21 car on a full-time basis. Just look at what they did in the 1970s – winning over 50 races while racing on a part-time basis each season. And since Morgan Shepherd won a race for the team in 1993, the Wood Brothers have won a mere two races (not including Michael Waltrip’s All-Star Race victory).
Hornish is currently racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series for Joe Gibbs Racing, and he has already won a race this season. But like Hornish has said in the past, he won’t race in the Cup Series if he doesn’t have a chance to win races week-in and week-out. That might take him out of the picture since the team has yet to score a top-10 finish at a track other than Daytona or Talladega since Las Vegas of 2012.
With Roush’s heavy alliance with the organization, they might encourage the Wood Brothers to stay racing on a part-time basis with one of RFR’s developmental drivers.
Currently, Roush has Chris Buescher and Ryan Reed racing in the Nationwide Series. Reed is struggling more than initially thought, partially because he has finished on the lead lap just three times this year. Although he has showed signs of improving, Reed is not going to be ready to tackle the Sprint Cup Series for at least another season.
That leaves Buescher, the younger cousin of former Camping World Truck Series champion, James Buescher. After missing the season-opener at Daytona because the entire Roush camp struggled to create a strategy to lay down respectable laps, Buescher has raced his way into the top-10 in points. Buescher would make a good candidate for the No. 21 seat as he has had similar results to that of Bayne’s when he started his Nationwide Series career.
Even though Buescher stated that he is going to run at least one more season before running full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, he did admit that he would like to get at least some experience in NASCAR’s top-tier division before tackling it for the entire season.
Ryan Blaney will also be a candidate to race the No. 21 car next year. Even though the Wood Brothers don’t work with Team Penske too much, they are both Ford teams. Blaney made his Cup Series debut at Kansas, and ran inside the top-20 until having to make a late race pit stop. It appears as if he will move up to the Nationwide Series on a full-time basis next year, and racing with the Wood Brothers would save Team Penske the trouble of having to field a third Cup Series team for Blaney – enabling them to possibly run Juan Pablo Montoya in some additional events.
Then there are some other drivers who might be able to seal the deal with the Wood Brothers. Here are some of the possible candidates:
-Elliott Sadler: Sadler drove for the Wood Brothers to start his career, but was not extremely successful with the exception of his fuel mileage win at Bristol in 2001. Currently, he drives for JGR as a title contender in the Nationwide Series, and he might be able to bring over his sponsorship to the Wood Brothers to run full-time with a Cup Series team.
-Regan Smith: Smith has a strong relationship with Chevrolet, so it is unlikely he will go to the Wood Brothers. However, if they offer him a full-time deal, he might just take it after racing in the Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports since last year.
-Josh Wise: Wise has shown in the past that he is capable of running well if given the equipment. He clearly outran Danica Patrick in the No. 7 Chevrolet in multiple Nationwide Series races in the past, but he has been stuck racing for underfunded teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. A part-time move to the Wood Brothers would help build Wise’s brand, especially if he can take all of his Reddit.com followers with him.
-Parker Kligerman: Kligerman is still searching for a ride in basically anything that has a motor and four tires. The former Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has notably been looking in the Verizon IndyCar Series for a ride, but he has yet to seal a deal. Racing for the Wood Brothers would enable him to run at the intermediate tracks, his strong suit, and he would be able to get the exposure of racing in the Cup Series which